A number of industries are well known for their fads: fashion, food, health. But technology has experienced just as many short-lived crazes over the years. From mobile games so popular they caused a danger to the public, to “futuristic” television sets that slowly died off. Here are the tech world’s biggest fads from the last decade.
In the late 2000s, if you wanted a very low-cost portable laptop and didn’t care about speed, computing power, storage, screen size, playing games, etc. then you bought a Netbook. I was part of this fad, and have terrible memories of squinting at my Intel Atom N270-powered machine as it took several minutes to load Windows XP.
Netbook specs improved slightly as the decade drew to a close and for a while they were even hailed as the savior of the laptop market. Sales of the tiny machines were expected to skyrocket in 2010, but Apple had other ideas. While the release of the iPad and the MacBook Air were not the only factors that spelled the beginning of the end for Netbooks, they played a key role.
It’s worth noting, though, that some people were questioning whether the low price was worth the poor performance even before Apple’s devices and better ultrabook alternatives arrived. Ironically, it was the Netbooks’ cheapness that was part of their undoing - manufacturers realized the race to the bottom was not working for them either.
More powerful and increasingly cheaper tablets eventually came along. The size and price of traditional laptops decreased, and consumers turned to ultrabooks, Chromebooks, and hybrid devices for low-cost, portable computing. In 2011, tablet shipments overtook netbooks for the first time, and in 2012 Netbook sales fell by 25 percent.
But the final nail in the Netbook coffin came in 2013, when Acer, Asus, and MSI announced they would stop manufacturing the 10-inch portables. They may have been a fad, but the Netbook’s five-year lifespan is certainly a memorable one.
Remember when a television wasn’t considered high-end unless it featured 3D technology and came with several pairs of glasses? It seemed TV manufacturers noticed cinema goers were paying extra money for that third dimension and decided they wanted a piece of the action. And for a while, it looked as if “the future of television” was here to stay.
While 3D had been popular in movie theaters since the 1950s, modern 3D television didn’t take off until the early 2010s. In the first year of this decade, around 2 million units were sold worldwide. By 2013 that figure had reached over 45 million.
As the 3D TV phenomenon grew, new and improved forms of the technology arrived, along with an increase in the number of channels offering a dedicated 3D service. But in late 2013, things started to go wrong as the number of people buying the televisions slowly began to decline.
The situation got worse when low subscriber numbers pushed those expensive 3D TV channels off the air. Fewer companies were making the sets as consumers started shunning the technology in favor of new features such as 4K and HDR. The writing was on the wall in February last year when it was revealed that Samsung and LG had all but abandoned 3D sets. Its death now looks certain, after Sony and Panasonic confirmed that they, too, won't be supporting the technology in their 2017 TV models.
So why did people lose their love of 3D TVs? For starters many never did love them, and it was only manufacturers' way to market and push TV sales for as long as it lasted.
A few other theories have been put forward: The lack of content is obviously a big problem with any new technology trying to get off the ground (take heed, VR); it didn’t always work very well; it could cause eye problems/headaches, and many people simply didn’t like sitting in their living rooms wearing big glasses all evening. For a lot of viewers, 3D was strictly a two-hour(ish) experience best kept for the cinema. While there are still a few 3D TV sets available, the fad is already being regarded in the same way as LaserDiscs.
Candy Crush, Farmville, Words With Friends, Mafia Wars – we’ve seen lots of mobile games that, mostly thanks to Facebook integration, became worldwide hits before their popularity started to wane. But none of them had the kind of meteoric rise and crushing fall experienced by Draw Something.
On February 12, 2012 – just before social video game behemoth Zynga decided to acquire the firm – OMGPop released an application that was, essentially, digital Pictionary. The game was great fun, and the ability to sign in with a Facebook account as a way of challenging friends gave Draw Something a crack-like addictive nature.
Even for people like me who have the artistic ability of a blindfolded cat, OMGPop’s game was one of the most enjoyable mobile titles I’ve ever played. Many a time were my efforts posted on Facebook for others to laugh at - my attempt to replicate one of the Spice Girls resembled something from the mind of Se7en killer John Doe.
It took just seven weeks after release for Draw Something to reach 35 million downloads. While the app was free and ad-supported, users had the option to pay for an ad-free experience. All this caught the eye of Zynga, who had already experienced massive success of its own with FarmVille. The company paid around $200 million for OMGPop on March 21, 2012, which, ironically, was the exact same day that Draw Something’s popularity peaked.
As much fun as the game was, it offered little variation on the basic theme. People started to get bored and move onto new things, and daily average user figures dropped by 5 million in a single month.
In October 2012, Zynga finally admitted it overpaid for OMGPop, taking a write-off of between $85 million and $95 million on the purchase. Just one year after acquiring the company during the height of Draw Something’s popularity, Zynga shut down the game’s creator for good.
A slightly controversial entry, admittedly, as QR Codes are still in use today. But a lot of that is down to Snapchat and its Snapcodes, which helped make the Quick Response Codes popular(ish) once again.
A few years ago, QR codes were everywhere. On food packaging, inside magazines, on billboards, even appearing in TV commercials, they were a dream marketing device for ad agencies across the world, especially as the number of people using them could be tracked, indicating just how willing potential customers were to engage with a product.
While the QR Code system had been around since 1994 – it was designed for high-speed component scanning when tracking vehicles during manufacturing - the rise of smartphones saw the snazzy squares become mainstream.
Despite the one-time near-ubiquity of QR Codes, a lot of people still didn’t know what they did or how to use them. And even those that were aware of these strange squares didn’t enjoy stopping in the middle of a street to point their devices at billboards. Some codes even appeared on signs along busy highways – possibly the most dangerous method of receiving a discount ever conceived.
Ultimately, the overwhelming majority of QR codes were used to solely to advertise products, and the few people who were regularly using them started to drift away. Advertisers turned to platforms like Facebook as a better way of selling their crap, and simple, shortened web links were used to direct consumers to sites.
QR codes still have their uses today. They’re often utilized by large events when allocating tickets; Twitter introduced them last November as a way to direct people to profiles; products like Google’s Wi-Fi system uses them to good effect, and the codes remains synonymous with Snapchat. Perhaps QR codes were more a marketing fad than a tech fad.
At its height, you couldn’t look at a news publication, be it on TV or the internet, without being overwhelmed by the latest Pokémon Go stories. But that’s not surprising, considering how at one point an estimated 45 million people were logging in to play the game each day.
The mobile title was so popular, lawsuits were launched against developer Niantic over the swarms of marauding players damaging beaches in Holland and neighborhoods in the US. It was used to lure victims and rob people, got banned in Iran and China, and even resulted in some parents naming their babies after the characters. With over 500 million downloads, the game was enjoyed by players worldwide. But much like Draw Something, that popularity quickly waned.
It took just one month for 10 million people to abandon Pokémon Go, and user numbers have been decreasing ever since. Like so many other mobile games, players started to get bored and moved on. Even the promise that it "cured" physical inactivity couldn't keep people sticking around.
Pokémon Go still has a sizable (huge) userbase and is earning plenty of money for Niantic. And the game just arrived in South Korea last week, which will likely mean an upturn in user numbers. But it will never again hit the dizzying heights of its glory days. If a fad is an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived, then Pokémon Go fits the bill.
Like Netbooks, advances in technology have been behind the E-book reader’s slow demise. The devices were still able to boast global shipments of 7.1 million units in 2016, but that’s a far cry from the 23.2 million readers shipped during their peak of popularity in 2011, and the lowest number since 2009.
E-book readers of today aren’t hugely different from the first modern incarnations that arrived ten years ago, which is partly why so many people rarely upgrade their devices. But there are two big reasons why dedicated E-book reader sales have fallen by almost one-third in the last five years: tablets and smartphones.
Yes, people are still buying electronic books, but the 92 percent of US consumers who own a smartphone and the near 50 percent that own a tablet use these devices as their preferred method of digital novel consumption. It's worth noting that e-books are still very popular; revenue from sales has continued to grow every year for the last decade, a trend that’s expected to continue.
Dedicated E-book readers still have plenty of fans, but with variety of inexpensive, powerful smartphones and tablets available today, you have to wonder how much longer will it be before they’re looked back on as being fad.